Monday, May 06, 2013

A dialog with a dummy... or what kind of booth did God cause the Israelites to live it?

A few weeks ago, one of the guys I know was pontificating in honor of Parshas Emor. His verse was Leviticus 23:43. Here is our conversation, edited and enhanced for entertainment and educational purposes.

Speaker: ...from this we see another example of God's kindness and generosity. For 40 years he  enveloped us in  the clouds of glory, protecting us from all harm...

Random Guy: How do we know this?

Speaker: It's plainly stated in Rashi. The verse say "כי בסכות הושבתי"[=I sheltered you in booths] and on the spot Rashi tells us that what is really meant is ענני כבוד [=Clouds of glory]

Me: What is "really meant?"

Speaker: Yes! Rashi is telling us that the verse isn't talking about booths at all. What the verse really means to say is that God protected us with the clouds of glory!

Me: But isn't it possible to say that when the verse says booths it really means booths?

Speaker: Are you doubting Rashi?

Me: No...

Speaker Do you think you know more than he did?

Me: Not at all.

Speaker: So what's the problem? I'll tell you what your problem is: No Emunah!!

Me: Ok, but...

Speaker: Honestly, where is your Emunah?

Me: Can...

Speaker: Any small hint of the supernatural and -boom- you turn into a heretic!

Me: Okay, let me...

Speaker: Well, I have news for you. The supernatural is the natural when it comes to Torah. God can do anything. And its only your small brain, and your narrow perspective that prevents you from accepting that.

Me: Right. Now can I...

Speaker: More importantly when a great Rabbi like Rashi says something happened you're required as a Jew to believe it.

Me: Which brings...

Speaker No questions asked!

Me: --

Speaker: No questions asked!

Me: Can I say...

Speaker: No questions asked!

Me: Great. Can I say something now?

Speaker: What?!

Me: I asked if it was possible to say that the booths the verses speaks about are actual booths. In response, you launched into a holy tirade accusing me of being a heretic, and denying the wisdom of Rabbis. Correct?

Speaker:  Correct!

Me: So according to you anyone who says that those were actual booths is disrespecting Rashi and denying a Torah truth?

Speaker:  Correct!

Me:  And, also, he's being a heretic?

Speaker:  Correct!

Me:  You know, that's a terrible thing to say about Rabbi Akiva.

Speaker:  What?!

Me: Here. Look at this passage from the Gemara (BT: Sukka 11b) For it has
been taught: For I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths (Leviticus 23:43)  These [booths] were clouds of glory, so says R. Eliezer. R. Akiba says, They made for themselves real booths. 

Bonus questions!

How did the speaker respond?

A:  We don't pasken like Rabbi Akiva!
B:  Rabbi Akiva is not from our Mesorah!  
C: They were both real booths AND clouds of glory. And if you can't figure out how they could be both, at the same time, that's your problem
D: DovBear, I accept you point and your criticism. It was wrong of me to attack you as a heretic. Clearly anything Rabbi Akiva said is valid. 

Why did Rashi choose Rabbi Eliezer over Rabbi Akiva? 

A: He knew through Ruach HaKodesh that Rabbi Akiva was wrong
B: He paskened that Rabbi Akiva was wrong.
C: He knew through the unbroken Mesorah going back to Sinai that Rabbi Akiva was wrong
D: Rashi had a particular interpretive agenda (Genesis 3:8: "I have come only to teach the plain meaning of the passage and such Aggadah which explains the words of the Bible.) When faced with an apparent scriptual anamoly Rashi provides the aggada that resolves the difficulty. In our verse the words הושבתי means that God made the Israelites live in the Sukkot. If these were ordinary booths, it would say merely that "the Israelites lived in booths" The fact that it says instead that God caused us to dwell in these booths suggests something supernaturtal. This is why Rashi cites Rabbi Eliezer in his commentary and not Rabbi Akiva


Y. Aharon said...

The post offers a logical explanation of Rashi's choice of the supernatural vs. natural explanation of the verse. Those who prefer the natural explanation, i.e., literal succot, can contend that the verse really refers to a singular event at the time of the exodus. We read that the Israelites first encamped in Succot on the way out of Egypt. One can reasonably conjecture that the place was named after the actual succot of reeds that the people were instructed to build when they camped for the night. After all, Egypt was known for the reeds lining the waterways. Subsequently they dwelt in tents in their desert journeys rather than in impermanent reed huts.

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